Tag Archives: LGBTQ

“Jesus’ Good News To the Invisible: ‘I see you.'” – Sermon on Luke 7:7-17

Standard

jesus-raises-the-widow-of-nains-son-icon

“Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”

Luke 7:11-17

In early May, I was incredibly moved by the speech given by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch as she denounced the North Carolina bathroom law. (If you haven’t already listened to her speech, I highly recommend that you do.)

After announcing that the Dept. of Justice was filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina because the bathroom law “create[s] state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals,” she stated: “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.”

While her statement was particularly powerful, as Loretta continued to boldly claim this was a civil rights issue, what blew so many people away (and brought me to tears) was her closing statement as she spoke directly to the transgender community: “Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Dept. of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

LGBTQI advocate Bob Witeck explained that Loretta’s closing remarks were so important because LGBTQI Americans are “used to living invisibly.” Yet, here Loretta Lynch is going “out of her way to tell them that she (and the Obama Administration) see them. That they are not invisible.” That their lives do – in fact – matter. And that they are going to commit to doing the justice work of fighting for full inclusion and equality.

And Mara Keisling, Executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said that this was an empowering statement because Loretta Lynch was acknowledging “that we are people…” and to many transgender people, esp. in North Carolina, that acknowledgement is needed. “The relief is just almost overwhelming,” Mara explained. “To just be so dehumanized [by the state of North Carolina] for six weeks now and then to be so humanized by the attorney general – it’s just amazing.”

*****

“We see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

These words are similar to the words we hear Jesus speaking in our Gospel text this morning.

It’s an emotional scene in Luke.

Our attention is first centered on a large, excited crowd surrounding Jesus. To their amazement, Jesus has just healed the centurion’s servant in the town of Capernaum. And so this large crowd – along with Jesus’ disciples – follow Jesus, hoping to see what he will do next.

As Jesus and his entourage get close to a town called Nain and approach the town gate, we see another large crowd passing through the gate. But unlike the first crowd, this crowd from the town is weeping and grieving, as they follow the leaders of the group who are carrying the body of a man who had passed away.

This second crowd is participating in a funeral procession. But this is not just any funeral procession. As the author of Luke quickly points out, this dead man was the son of a woman who was poor, powerless, and on the complete margins of society: he was the son of a widow. And – as Luke emphasizes – the dead man was this widow’s only son. Luke’s earliest readers would have known what the funeral procession meant for this first century widow. Since women in first century Palestine were considered property of men and depended economically and socially on first their father, then their husband, and if widowed – their sons, this widow was not only facing another incredible loss in her life. But the death of her only son left her completely destitute without a home, job, health care, and if she received no charity from the community – she would be left with no way to survive.

She was now completely invisible.

No wonder she was sobbing as she passed Jesus at the entrance gate to Nain.

Now, it would have made sense for Jesus, this first century rabbi and his followers to just keep going on their way… For, they had important places to be and important things to do.  And why would they notice this widow in the middle of a large crowd in the midst of a funeral procession, anyway?  She would not only have been lost in the crowd, but she was also invisible to the world.

However, this widow was not invisible to Jesus. Maybe it was the volume of her weeping and wailing or the desperation in her eyes that caught Jesus’ attention. But whatever it was, as the two large crowds converge, Jesus sees the widow and he stops what he is doing. He has compassion for her: “Do not weep,” he urges her.

Then in front of both large crowds, he does the unimaginable. With no concern for his own reputation, he touches the bier – or the corpse – an act that was forbidden by the law because the corpse was deemed unclean. Then, speaking to the corpse, he says: “Young man, I say to you: Rise!” and then the dead man sits up and starts speaking. And as Jesus gives the man to his mother, the hope of this once destitute and invisible widow for a future and a holistic life has been resurrected.

It is as if Jesus is saying to her: “I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”

Now, I think it is important to note that this kind of compassion Jesus has is not just a light-hearted sympathy for this woman. The Greek word for compassion used here comes from a Greek noun that means the kidneys, the bowels, the heart, the lungs, the liver: the internal organs. In other words, when Jesus sees this widow in her grief and desperation, his entire insides – his guts – churn. They overflow with concern, compassion, and love… for her.

And this is not the only time Jesus stops what he is doing and performs a miracle for people who are invisible – people who are on the margins – because he has a deep, internal compassion for them. When he sees the sick, he is moved with compassion and heals them. When he sees the hungry, he is moved with compassion and feeds them. When blind beggars cry out to him for help, he sees them, is moved with compassion for them, and gives them sight.

“I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”

And thus is with the grieving, destitute widow in our text in Luke.

Here, at the entrance gate to Nain, Jesus sees this invisible woman for who she truly is. Jesus denounces the labels and images that society has placed upon her and instead he sees and affirms the imago dei – the image of God that she was created in before she even left her mother’s womb. Jesus sees and acknowledges her beloved-ness and her humanity – which society has failed to see in her. And seeing this widow in all her pain and in her deep desperation, Jesus is moved with compassion from his most inward being, and he does what he can in that moment to liberate her from the bondage that society has placed upon her.

“I see you, I stand with you, and I will do everything I can to protect you going forward.”

*****

This is the good news that we have in Jesus Christ.

This is the good news that Jesus proclaimed to the first century widow grieving the death of her son outside of Nain and this is the good news Jesus proclaims to us today. He is our loving God in the flesh who sees the unseen. Who affirms our humanity and beloved-ness when the world denies it. Who – when he sees us in all our pain and desperation – his very insides churn and he is moved with deep compassion and love for us. He is our Savior who places his concern for our well-being far above the laws of the religious. He is our advocate who would risk his own reputation in order to ensure that our basic needs are met so that all God’s children can live holistically, as God created us to live.

And because as followers of Jesus we are the eyes, the ears, the hands, and the feet of Christ in the world, Jesus calls us to open our eyes to see and to open our hearts and our guts to be moved with deep compassion, as well.

So I’d like to leave us all with a challenge from St. Louis pastor and Black Lives Matter activist Rev. Traci Blackmon, who said in her sermon at the Justice Conference that “we have a moral obligation to see…[to] notice who is invisible.” That we must ask ourselves: “who are those that are missing, who are those that we do not see? … The challenge for us is to see what we’ve been conditioned not to see… Wherever the marginalized are not seen, heard or cared for, our covenant is broken… [Therefore], look into the eyes of another of God’s creation… past their skin, past their gender, past their sexuality. Look until you see Jesus.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Guest Post at Bold Cafe: “Faith Reflections: Beloved and Wonderfully Made”

Standard

flower-pink-love-rose

 

Today I am guest blogging over at Bold Cafe: “Faith Reflections: Beloved and Wonderfully Made.”

It is really hard to be a preteen or teenager today. I unfortunately know this because as a pastor who works with youth, I have seen this firsthand. I’m not saying that it wasn’t difficult to be that age. I received my fair share of unrealistic and unhealthy messages about society’s definition of beauty and who was worthy and who was not. All I had to do was watch a few VH1 videos, stop at the magazine rack at a convenience store, or listen to my middle school classmates who bullied me during lunch to know that I did not fit into society’s most-valued list.

However, it is much more difficult today to shut out the negative messages about who is deemed worthy in the eyes of society and one’s peers.

 

To read the rest, click here.

“Off the Deep End, Demonic, or Doing God’s Will?” – Sermon on Mark 3:20-35

Standard

jesus_and_devil_rl001031

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters* are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’-Mark 3:20-35

It’s quite the scene in our Gospel passage for today. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and Jesus has already healed several people who were sick, he’s cast out demons, he’s touched a man with leprosy. He’s just finished calling the twelve disciples to follow him – one of whom is a tax collector. He’s performed miracles on the Sabbath day. Jesus has definitely started to shake things up a bit, and it’s only the third chapter in Mark.

And so it’s no wonder that now – as Jesus and the twelve come down from a mountain and head home for dinner – great crowds catch wind of where this radical rabbi is, and they follow him.

…Such great crowds that Jesus and the twelve apostles cannot even eat.

Some of those in the crowds are probably in awe of what Jesus is doing and come to see Jesus in hopes that they – too – can be healed by this miracle-working rabbi. Others in the crowds are likely just curious to see if the rumors about him are true… However, not everyone in the crowd is impressed. Not everyone thinks highly about this rabbi who hangs out with outcasts, touches the untouchable ones, and bends the societal and religious rules.

And so word travels fast that Jesus must be “out of his mind.”

And when his family hears of this, they immediately rush to him in order to restrain him.

If you think it’s bad enough for Jesus to have his own family try to restrain him because they believe he has gone off the deep end, this is nothing compared to what comes next. When a bunch of scribes – religious teachers of the law – from Jerusalem had heard about this radical rabbi, they travel about 90 miles to Capernaum to find him. And when they do, they don’t just say he is out of his mind. Rather, they accuse him of being in line with Beezlebub, the “Lord of the flies,” which was another name for Satan – himself.

However, instead of defending his actions or promising that he will no longer break or challenge the rules and social norms as he had been doing, Jesus just laughs. “Satan?! How can I be Satan? Satan wouldn’t cast Satan out. If he did, he’d only destroy himself. No, I am not Satan. I am the stronger one who can cast out Satan. Truly I tell you: people will be forgiven for their sins and all blasphemies they utter. However, whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit by accusing me of being Satan will not have forgiveness.”

Around this time, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive outside the home. And so some of the disciples in the crowd tell Jesus his family has arrived and have sent for him. But Jesus replies: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looks at those sitting around him. “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my mother.”

*****

Now, I gather that this story sounds a little archaic to many of us here today. And it may seem quite difficult for us to gather how we might actually find meaning in and through it.

And yet, when we look around at what is going on in our city, in our state, throughout our country, and around the world, I think we actually do not have to look too long or hard before we can see how this story continues to play out around us.

Because I don’t know about you, but I have definitely seen and felt this radical Jesus.  I have definitely seen this powerful Holy Spirit at work in the world bringing healing to those who are sick and suffering, hanging out with and empowering those who have been outcast, challenging and breaking the societal and religious rules when they uplift only some while marginalizing others, and casting out the demons of our systems that hold us captive.

But then I get on facebook or twitter… only to see how Jesus – our Deliverer – and those who follow him in his work of bringing liberation to the world are often said to be “out of their minds.” Then I turn on the news only to see how the work of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and our Guide, and those who are following her lead in doing the will of God often get demonized.

From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Chicago to Springfield, those who have been out marching in the streets this past year for racial justice, economic justice, and immigration reform have been made out to be those “loony radicals,” those “thugs,” those “undeserving illegals,” those “demonic liberals.”

And if you’ve watched the news or have been on facebook or twitter at all this week, you have likely seen some of this type of “crazy-making” and “demonizing” of Caitlyn Jenner in response to her coming out in public for the first time after her transition into her true self as a woman. This demonizing of Caitlyn did not only come from independent facebook users, tweeters, and bloggers, but this demonizing and mocking of Caitlyn even came from news reporters on large networks! And while many individuals and organizations spoke out in support of Caitlyn and other transgender folks, they – too – have been thrown under the bus.  And Christians who have spoken out in support of her have even been deemed by some as “not Christian” because of their support for her.

This month is Pride month, an important month where LGBTQ folks celebrate who they truly are – who God created them to be – and where they can find hope in the support and love of others around them when they are still often being demonized by many in our society. Every year, many clergy and members of welcoming churches from around the Chicago area march together at the Pride Parade at the end of the month. I marched with this group for the first time last year, and I will have to tell you, it was an incredibly powerful experience. When many people in the crowds saw our group of clergy and parishioners marching in the parade, they were brought to tears. Several people asked if they could have a hug and one person told me: “It means so much to me to see you all here.  I was told by my pastor that I was a sinner and I either had to stop this kind of sinning or I had to leave the church. I left the church. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”

Healing and justice-making takes place through groups like the coalition of welcoming churches at the Pride Parade and through other individuals and groups in our country and throughout the world who work with people on the margins and who work for various justice causes in a variety of ways.  It is through these individuals and groups where I see our radical Jesus at work breaking down barriers and bringing people with little hope together to find their voice and to find others who will walk alongside them during their difficult journeys. It is here where I see the Holy Spirit moving in places that many people are still too afraid to go.

But every year, when those clergy, parishioners, and other individuals return home from the Pride Parade or other compassion and justice work, like Jesus, they too often are immediately faced with opposition.

And yet, through the swarming crowds and the overwhelmingly demonizing tweets, facebook posts, emails, and articles, we hear the voice of Jesus calling out: “Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother, my sister.”

But doing the will of God, following in Jesus’ footsteps of bringing good news of liberation and love to all is not easy. As we can see in Mark, it doesn’t take Jesus very long in his ministry before he starts to freak some people out and tick other people off. Jesus’ actions and teachings immediately lead to misunderstanding and opposition, including misunderstanding and opposition of those closest to him, of his own family, his own flesh and blood.

And so it is true for many of us. As Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne states: “The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into.” And for some of us, the ones we get most “in trouble with” – the ones who oppose us the most – may be those who are closest to us: our best friends or even our own families.

But…

Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother, my sister.”

The good news is that while this work God calls us to is difficult and overwhelming at times, even when we face opposition, God will not leave us alone.

This season of Pentecost reminds us that we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And that no matter what, when we feel misunderstood, abandoned by, or demonized by even those closest to us, we are not left without a family. We have one right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us in this difficult work of discerning what God’s will is for our lives and then living it out.

So, may we – as sisters and brothers in Christ – build one another up so that we all can have courage to hear, discern, and do God’s will.

Amen.